Review: British Airways First Lounge New York JFK (it’s really bad)

The BA First Lounge at JFK may well turn into the happiest place in the world in the evenings, but if you're visiting as an ANA passenger, it's an absolutely dire experience.

48 hours in New York: Trip Planning
ANA B777-300ER “THE Room” Business Class NRT-JFK
British Airways First Lounge New York JFK
ANA B777-300ER “THE Suite” First Class JFK-HND
ANA Suite Lounge Tokyo Haneda
Singapore Airlines B777-300ER First Class HND-SIN


Question: When is a First Class lounge not a First Class lounge?

Answer: When it’s British Airways, and you’re not flying with them.

Allow me to explain.

Although partnership agreements may require airlines to open their lounges to passengers from other carriers, they’re not contractually obliged to offer their best possible experience.

In other words, they can offer the physical space, but cut back on the bells and whistles during times when their own flights are not operating, basically saving the best stuff for their own customers.

And why wouldn’t they? What gain is it to them if a passenger has a great pre-departure experience flying with another carrier? Conversely, what loss is it if a passenger has a crappy one? If they complain, it’s the operating carrier that gets a earful.

That’s why Qatar Airways operates the premium Al Safwa First Lounge in Doha for its own passengers, but shuttles oneworld elites to a basic, overcrowded lounge. It’s why Lufthansa has an amazing First Class Terminal in Frankfurt for its own passengers, but sends Singapore Airlines Suites customers to the mediocre Senator Lounge.

And that’s why my British Airways First Class lounge experience as an ANA First Class customer left an awful lot to be desired.

tl;dr
The BA First Lounge at JFK may well become the happiest place on earth when it’s hosting BA departures; I wouldn’t know. All I know is as an ANA First Class passenger, your experience will be completely abject.
The good The bad
  • Visually impressive design
  • A food selection so small it feels insulting 
  • Showers are tiny, dirty, and depressing
  • Non-BA passengers treated like second class citizens- no elemis spa, no pre-flight dining

Getting there

British Airways operates two separate facilities at JFK Terminal 7. The first facility is separated into two sections, one called the Galleries Lounge (for Business Class customers), and the other called the First Lounge.

Despite the name, this isn’t British Airway’s “true” First Class lounge. If you’re flying First Class on British Airways, you won’t even see the inside of this place- instead, you’ll go to the second facility called the Concorde Room, located near Gate 1.

So who uses the First Lounge? BA Gold members who aren’t travelling in First Class get access, as do oneworld Emerald elites. ANA also uses this facility on a contractual basis for its First Class passengers, which is how I ended up here.

The British Airways First Lounge is located just after security at Terminal 7. Head up the escalator, hang left, head up a second escalator and you’re there.

Layout and seating

There were ANA staff at reception to welcome passengers. They were the only ones smiling though- the other receptionist appeared to be from BA, and was wearing a big frown on her face throughout.  In retrospect, however, her expression was the only possible sane reaction to a lounge experience this terrible; it was the ANA staff who were psychopaths for smiling.

After reception, you turn left to enter the First Lounge.

You’ll walk down a little corridor with toilets and lockers on the left, and the lounge area straight in front of you.

The lockers, surprise surprise, are not available for use. A posted sign says “as per TSA regulations, the lockers are temporarily out of service”. That’s…odd, given this lounge is past security. Evidently, TSA doesn’t trust themselves enough to screen all passengers properly. To be fair, I don’t trust them either.

In terms of design, the lounge passes muster. BA spent £52 million to refurbish its Terminal 7 facilities in JFK, which saw the floor space expanded by 60% and revamped architecture and interior design by Corgan. The resulting environment feels pleasant, with marble panels, feature walls, and warm lighting.

One new addition is the wine area, which features a tasting machine with a revolving selection.

In the middle of the lounge is the main seating area, where all seats have power sockets and USB ports.

There are also a few dining tables, although the lighting around them is extremely dark (I’ve boosted the light in the photo below).

The buffet line, fridge and coffee machine are laid out in an L shape near the dining and seating area. I’ll talk about the dining options (or lack thereof) in a little bit.

At the rear, you’ll find the bar area and the centerpiece of the lounge. It certainly makes for great photos, I’ll give them that.

You can sit at the bar if you wish, but otherwise there’s some additional seating by the wall in the form of individual armchairs.

Elsewhere in the lounge you’ll find a long communal work table, with magazines, printing facilities and two TVs showing the news.

Shower “suites”

Now let’s talk about something really bad: the showers. BA may have spent £52 million renovating these lounges, but I’m sure not a single penny went here. You can’t even use the “oh, it’s just because you’re not flying BA” argument here, because these are the same showers that all passengers use. Even BA’s First Class passengers in the Concorde room need to trek here to shower, which means there’s really no plausible reason for it to be this bad.

The showers are located in the Galleries Lounge. I asked about them at reception and was escorted over by one of the ANA staff. She walked me through the seating area to the rear of the lounge.

The showers are located next to the elemis spa (which of course was closed).

So, let’s set the scene once more. A £52 million renovation. The same shower suites used by British Airways First Class customers paying thousands of dollars. A commercially-important route with many executives heading straight to the airport from meetings, hoping to catch a shower before a red-eye flight.

And we get this:

The shower “suites” look like something straight out of a hospital bathroom. Can anyone say medical chic?

The room hadn’t even been cleaned properly- there was some loose toilet paper lying on the floor when I came in.

The shower cubicle was tiny, with barely enough room to turn around in. The tiles were discolored, and rust was running down from the bottom of the shower panel.

Quite frankly, I didn’t want to touch anything in that room, let alone remove my shoes. It’s just astounding to think that BA management took a look at the plans and said “yes, this’ll work.”

To add insult to injury, the locks don’t even work that well. No sooner had I sat on the toilet than the door flew open as the same attendant, who had barely five minutes ago shown me to this very room, opened it for someone else to use. She just said “oh” (the other passenger was more embarrassed than she was), and closed the door, leading me to wonder if this was a fairly common occurrence.

Joke’s on her, I had beans for lunch.

Food & beverage

Speaking of beans, let’s talk about the F&B in the lounge (what a great segue).

When I first entered the lounge, the ANA receptionist offered me a basket of pre-wrapped pastries. I politely declined, thinking it was an odd thing to do. I mean, I was about to head into a First Class lounge, where there’d surely be a gourmet extravaganza waiting, right? Right?

Well, not quite. To understand how bad this is for ANA customers, you need to first understand BA’s flight timings. BA operates a total of 12 daily flights from New York, with two morning departures and 10 evening departures.

Note the big gap from 10.20 a.m to 6.10 p.m. This lull is where NH 109 to Haneda falls- the flight leaves at 4.55 p.m, which means most ANA passengers are in the lounge from 2-4.30 p.m or so.

Now, feast your eyes upon the gastronomic extravaganza available at this time.

Hey, at least the chips are house-made.

A tureen bore the promise of soup, yet turned out to be empty upon closer inspection.

That’s it. No, really. This is the sum total of the dining options available to ANA First Class passengers departing from JFK.

Fine, if you want to be technical there’s also a selection of fruit near the entrance (fruit is a company’s way of saying “we want to cut costs under the guise of healthy eating”), and a couple of tubs of cookies near the communal work table, but that’s really it.

I flagged a passing staff member to ask when the food would be brought out. “4.30 p.m,” came the response.

“But that’s too late for ANA passengers,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s true.” He ruminated briefly, then walked off.

Now the basket at reception suddenly made sense to me. I went back to take a melon bun, which I munched dejectedly while eyeing the instant noodles a gentleman brought along with him. Clearly, he was a veteran of this lounge.

As a footnote, there is a “boutique dining” section, but it’s closed off whenever British Airways flights aren’t departing. In any case, access is restricted to BA customers only.

So the food situation is dire. Can you at least drink your cares away?

Yes and no. There’s no bartender in the afternoon, but you can help yourself to the alcohol at the bar.

There were also a few red wines available, as well as a bottle of flat prosecco. BA does serve champagne in this lounge, but (and you knew this was coming) only when its own passengers are around.

I ventured back to the wine corner and created a flight of my own. Sadly, this machine is designed to dispense samples, not full glasses. I suppose you could keep pressing the button, although hanging out at a dispenser accumulating enough samples for a standard drink isn’t exactly what most people think of when you say “First Class ground experience”.

My tasting notes.

Conclusion

I’ve been careful to state that my “lounge experience” was terrible, not that the “lounge” per se is terrible. The reason for the distinction is because I’m sure BA customers will have a much better time. They’ll get pre-flight dining. They’ll get elemis spa treatments. They’ll have a bartender to make drinks and pour champagne (they’ll still have crappy showers though).

Honestly, I have no idea the extent to which this is ANA’s fault versus BA’s. It could be the case that ANA simply doesn’t reimburse BA enough per passenger for them to provide decent catering. It could be that BA is ripping off ANA. Whatever the reason, the experience for ANA customers (or any other passenger not flying on BA for that matter) is utterly abject. This isn’t the kind of thing worth showing up early for; heck, it isn’t the kind of thing you should show up hungry for either.

Do yourself a favor and use your Priority Pass to access the next door Alaska Airlines lounge– it’s an altogether more pleasant experience.

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Avid Reader

Personally, I found lots of humour in the article. This cracked up my morning.

phister

No bidet spray??? Where is the luxury???

Danny

At least you had 14+ hours in ANA first class to look forward to, after this pish (using an appropriately high class British colloquialism) experience!

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